quick, sneaky questioning to improve reading comprehension
She’s doing great with her spelling, she’s made huge strides with decoding, but she’s stuck on one particular level and needs to stretch her brain a bit as far as reading comprehension is concerned in order to move upward and onward. I’m not stressing about it. We couldn’t be more proud of how hard she’s working, and she loves that she’s a big ‘chapter book’ gal who can read to Owen and Cora.
I’m just trying to sneak in a few things here and there that might help her, whenever I’m able. Quick, easy, 5- or 10 minute strategies during nighttime read-alouds. Anything helps.
Doing a little bit of questioning is one teeny way, and it’s a strategy I wish I would have explored a bit more months ago.
- Questioning to Improve Reading Comprehension: When Maddy had to knock out her first ever Book Talk last week, she chose a book that she really fell hard for–The Perfect Sword by Scott Goto. The Perfect Sword follows an apprentice, Michio, and his teacher, the acclaimed swordsmith, Sensei Masa, as they search for the perfect owner for their perfect sword. Richly illustrated by Goto, with amazing attention to detail, this story emphasizes the importance of humility, hard work, compassion, and Bushido–the Samurai code of honor.
I’ll be honest–it’s unlike any book we have around here–which is partly why I believe Maddy was so taken by it. But it really is a beautifully crafted story filled with characters both awful and incredible. And the message is one that is worth exploring at any age.
ahhh, the beloved Takeshi
The Perfect Sword was perfect to use with questioning, but I had to be sneaky. My kiddo was tired, so our first reading, though it was before bedtime, had to be totally relaxed, comfy, and engaging. I d idn’t even tell her what I was doing; I simply modeled my own questioning to get her brain moving.
After every few pages, I’d simply stop and say something like, I wonder why Sensei Masa is so worried about who gets his sword. I mean, what’s the big deal? and then I’d kind of shrug and move on.
Sometimes if I found an answer to one of my questions, I’d comment aloud: Oh, so he wants the sword to go to someone who deserves it–not just anyone, but someone special. I got it.
By the end of the book, I invited Maddy to share a question. After I read the page, I said, What question is in your head after hearing . . . ? She thought for a while and gave me something–not what I’d hoped for, but it was something. I said, Hmmm, that’s an awesome example of a ‘thin’ question–one that you can find an answer to pretty easily like ‘I wonder what color his hair is or where his shoes are’. You can find the answers by looking at the page.
My questions are ‘thick’–they make me think a bit, look hard for the answer, and might not be so easy to find. Let’s keep going. We read on, and I modeled another thick question for her: Takeshi stopped the thief in the market. Why would he have done that, when it wasn’t his stuff that was stolen?
She added, Yeah, and I see Michio and Sensei Masa are watching, so I wonder what they’re thinking. I said, Good ‘thick’ question, my friend. You’re really thinking!
And that was it. We questioned. We read, we thought, and we asked ourselves questions. Because that’s what strong readers do.
My hope is to continue to practice some sneaky self-questioning with Maddy (and Owen and Cora for that matter!) because it’s easy, it’s important, and it is a super-worthwhile skill for emerging readers to develop. I’ve said before that children do not have to be readers themselves in order to develop reading comprehension strategies; rather, teachers and parents can model strategies through think alouds, shared readings, and by promoting critical thinking (Cunningham & Shagoury; Hickey).
And questioning in particular is muy importante because self-questioning is one characteristic of thoughtful readers which results in deeper levels of understanding text (Brown, et al). When kids can ask themselves questions while they read, they’re interacting with the text in a way that will make them more active stakeholders. They’ll be more likely to remember what they read and will want to read on to find out more.
Questioning can be as easy as asking yourself things like:
- I wonder why that character. . .
- What did she think about when she . . .
- How did he feel about. . .
- Why did that character say . . .
- When will he figure out that. . .
It’s anything you, as a reader, want to know about what you’re reading. Anything goes. And no worries about distinguishing ‘thick’ or ‘thin’ questions at this point; we want our kids to enjoy reading, to want to read, and to grow as readers. That’s what’s important.
Thanks to the following sources for information in this post:
-BrownG. Cassar, M., Craven, R.G., & Marsh, H.W. Improving standardized reading comprehension: the role of question-answering. SELF Research Center, Univ. of Western Sydney, Austrailia. Oct. 2006.
-Cunningham & Shagoury. (2005). Kindergartners explore reading comprehension using a surprisingly complex array of strategies. Educational Leadership.
-Hickey. (1998). Developing critical reading readiness in primary grades. The Reading Teacher.